Capacity Assurance

Maybe it's time for a new name for maintenance


There are all kinds of conversations within organizations just as there are all kinds of conversations among people. Most obvious are the out-front or visible conversations on everyone's lips which are part of the entire structure of the organization. These may be about the industry, profit levels, who has moved up or down: visible conversations are all the things about the company that people say out loud to each other.

There are also behind-the-scenes conversations. When someone is hired on, they hear the visible conversation when everyone is hanging out. They hear the more invisible conversations only when they are really considered one of the team.

The invisible conversations are just as powerful (sometimes more so) as the visible ones, but they are significantly harder to change. They include personal concerns about who you can trust or who is incompetent. They also include corporate-wide assessments such as "Management speaks with a forked tongue." These behind-the-scenes conversations have tremendous impact on the conduct of maintenance and how maintenance personnel are treated.

One example of a conversation is, "Maintenance is a necessary evil."

Let's deconstruct this. What impact does such a conversation have? How do you act if you are a necessary evil? Is this kind of conversation the basis for a healthy relationship? How do you contribute as a necessary evil; indeed, why would you even want to? If you want to be all you can be, how far can you go when everyone says that you are a necessary evil?

"The necessary evil" conversation comes from the simple fact that maintenance doesn't contribute directly to the manufacture or delivery of anything. In modern parlance we do not add value to the product. Modern organizations also agree that we are necessary. So the conversation "necessary evil" gets created.

Much of what consultants like myself contribute to maintenance is to offer new ways of looking at it. One such new viewpoint is to call maintenance "Capacity Assurance." We can prove that good maintenance practices actually produce additional manufacturing capacity. The value of this added capacity usually dwarfs the cost of delivering maintenance services.

Like my friend Mark Goldstein told me, "More customers are being lost to businesses like yours due to equipment reliability problems, than quality issues. Today, too many companies are losing valued customers because in their rush to service increasing customer demand, their management overlooked the fact that Just-In-Time delivery depends on full plant throughput, and full plant equipment throughput is dependent on companies maintaining full plant equipment capacity! Too many senior company executives overlooked their responsibility to strengthen their maintenance operations and their continuing investment in plant maintenance. The result: Customer Loss!"

There is a problem here. On top of the existing conversation about being a necessary evil, talking about full plant capacity seems like putting lipstick on a pig. That is why these reframing exercises rarely work. All the positive thinking in the world cannot overcome the fact that the pig (maybe even an extremely attractive pig) is still a pig.

If maintenance departments are an expense only, how does an expense contribute to the success of the enterprise? A good expense is a dead (zero) expense. Do you see the uphill battle implicit in changing that conversation?

To be continued...

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